I rarely get excited about web applications anymore; after enough time tinkering with web sites, there aren’t too many surprising finds out there. But occasionally I run across something so enchanting and addictive that it reminds me of my first experiences with the web, when practically anything made me gush.
About a year ago (maybe more…time flies) I looked at a site called LibraryThing. At the time, I wasn’t that impressed, but taking a second look recently, I found that the site has really improved. The LibraryThing application is a social networking site that uses mutual interest in books as the primary mechanism for building the social network. On the surface, this may seem like what Amazon does with your book purchases, wish lists, and other Amazon-ica collected from their customers. But the accuracy of Amazon’s recommendations is usuallycolored by their drive to maximize profit. In other words, there is often the smell of push and hype with Amazon.
In contrast, LibraryThing recommends books purely based on shared intellectually, based on what’s on your bookshelf holds in common with other site users. The recommendations derived are different, and, in my unscientific comparison, more accurate than Amazon. With many unique and addictive features, like a book cover view that lets you see all your covers at once, LibraryThing is truly a remarkable gem on the web. What really sharpens the accuracy of the LibraryThing network is the obvious absence of an interested third-party, driven to push the latest best seller on you. Much ink, or maybe e-ink, has been spilled talking about how Amazon makes their profits on the “long tail” of consumer interest, namely the thousands of customers interested in one or two back catalog books that would collect dust on the shelves of a traditional brick-and-mortar book seller. But for all the hype around that idea, when you visit Amazon, even as a returning customer with a long track record of purchases, Amazon pushes the same best-sellers you see everywhere else.
If you read as much as I do, you find yourself always on a quest for more good reads, hence my excitement at re-discovering LibraryThing. Word of warning: without entering your books, LibraryThing doesn’t have much to offer, and that task could really be a barrier to making the most of the site. Luckily, LibraryThing has added some nice features to make entering books fun, fast, and addictive. I especially like the automatic book cover download, and the book cover photo-mosaic layout. Thumbs up, LibraryThing!